Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Prohibition of Hydraulic Fracturing (Extraction of Hydrocarbon) Bill 2016: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the prohibition of Hydraulic Fracturing and all other practices to extract Hydrocarbon from coal seams, shale rock and tight sands in Ireland.
I am aware that the week before last we debated Deputy Tony McLoughlin's Bill which I supported to ban fracking. In parallel with whatever work he was doing on that Bill, I was working to update a similar Bill that I had submitted last December, namely, the Prohibition of Hydraulic Fracturing Bill 2015. I withdrew it from the lottery because it had become clear in the aftermath of events in Antrim that the definition of hydraulic fracturing did not necessarily cover other forms of unconventional extraction of hydrocarbons that essentially were fracking or paved the way for it. Like Deputy Tony McLoughlin, I was working with Friends of the Earth, An Taisce and other groups to refine the Bill to make it more specific and allow it to catch up with technological developments.
I am happy with Deputy Tony McLoughlin's Bill, as I signalled to him two weeks ago. I commend him, including for giving a voice to campaigners in his area and environmental campaigners generally who are fighting to ensure we will rule out any possibility of engaging in hydraulic fracturing. However, there is a small difference between his Bill and mine. Actually, it is a significant difference and I suspect that he will probably agree with me. If we have moved towards an agreement or a consensus that we should rule out hydraulic fracturing onshore, as I hope we have, that prohibition should apply offshore also. That is the additional feature of my Bill.
I do not intend to add my Bill to the lottery at this point. We will see how the debate goes on Deputy Tony McLoughlin's Bill on Committee Stage when I hope he and the Government will be open to an amendment to include the offshore in the prohibition of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional extraction. The reason is simple. Human health, the impact on the environment and the need to address climate change were the three key issues on which the House seemed to agree were at stake in trying to ban hydraulic fracturing. The evidence suggests human health, the environment and water will be adversely affected by hydraulic fracturing and that there is no justification, particularly in the light of our Paris Declaration commitments to address climate change urgently, for extracting more hydrocarbons or finding new ways to do so. If that is true onshore, self-evidently, i tis true offshore also.
A further important concern people have raised is seismic impacts, for example, the potential for earthquakes to occur and so on. There is considerable evidence that this technology can contribute to earthquakes and that it has done so.
The precautionary principle that was cited in the debate about hydraulic fracturing onshore needs to apply to hydraulic fracturing offshore also. Our offshore territorial waters are a precious resource, just as our land resources are. All of the reasons that have been recounted - tourism, biodiversity, human habitats, animal habitats and so on - apply just as much offshore. Any prohibition on fracking must, therefore, apply offshore. It is in that context that I am submitting the Bill. I hope including it in the lottery will not be necessary further down the road if the Government is open to accepting my amendment to Deputy Tony McLoughlin's Bill on Committee Stage. If it is not, I will try to press ahead with my Bill.